How to go green and stick to it a step-by-step guide
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Sustainable Resolutions: a Step-by-Step Guide on How to Go Green and Stick to It

Although I’m a great believer in new beginnings, I don’t remember making more than a handful of New Year’s resolutions which, of course, I’ve failed miserably to keep. But I’m not the only one: according to statistics, only 8% of us manage to get their shit stuff together and achieve their New Year’s goals (Kudos to them!).

This got me thinking: why do we suck so bad at changing our lives? Is it because we’re too comfortable with our shortcomings? Perhaps we’re not determined enough to follow through. Or maybe we’re setting unrealistic goals to begin with.

But then I took at statistics again and I’ve noticed that most New Year’s resolutions are actually …reasonable. For a lot of people, changing their lives for the better isn’t about winning the lottery, owning an Unicorn or travelling to Narnia. Instead, it’s about self improvement, money, and health:

Top New Year's resolutions

Image courtesy of statisticbrain.com

Of course, however “keepable” these resolutions may seem, we all know they’re easier said than done.

But get this: what if, in this case, success is not actually a matter of effort or determination, but a matter of context?

What if, instead of working towards our resolutions directly, we work towards creating a favorable context, enabling the desired changes to occur naturally?

Think about it: when we want lose weight, we don’t just magically drop the extra pounds; instead, we adjust our diets and our lifestyle patterns, actively creating the optimal conditions for the weight loss to happen.

What I’m actually getting at is that, instead of aiming to eat healthier, lose weight, or save more money, we should consider an approach where all these things come naturally, as intrinsic consequences : green living.

Why? Because going green isn’t just about the environment: embraced in its entirety, this resolution has the potential to improve every aspect of our lives, from health and comfort all the way to mindset and our savings account.

For this purpose, I have created a series of articles dedicated to the science of green living.

Today, we’ll explore what is green livingwhy is important to go green and how to go green so it becomes a rewarding lifelong commitment – which is a challenge for most people, including myself.

Let’s take first things first:

What Exactly Is Green Living and Why All the Fuss About It?

If I were to define it, I’d say that, essentially, green living is a way of life that seeks to reduce the negative impact we have on our planet, consumption and waste wise, and whose ultimate goal is to create a balanced relationship between our civilization and the Earth’s natural resources and biodiversity.

So far so good, however, when it comes to personal motivation or encouraging others to go green, “saving the planet”, no matter how real or noble it is, doesn’t really work as a great motivator because we often tend to see the world, our world, from an exterior and detached perspective.

Sure, notions such as “environmental impact” and “climate change” have long been brought to our attention as real issues that our society should deal with in a responsible manner, but at an individual level, they are somewhat overwhelming and even devoid of personal meaning.

Why Go Green?

In a broader sense, the answer to this question would be interdependence or interconnectedness. From ancient spiritual practices to philosophy, economy, climatology and the “six degrees of separation” theory, this principle has always been around but has only become an obvious reality through one of its most controversial aspects – globalization.

If, a few years ago, it was easy not to know or to turn a blind eye on our environmental impact, today our actions are catching up with us in a very obvious way. We can actually see, in real time, how one side of the world’s industry impacts the other’s economy, how one country’s commerce influences another’s biodiversity, how the t-shirt we’re wearing affects the quality of a water source, how our consumption behaviours are filling up our oceans and fields with millions of tons of plastic and waste.

So, if we change the angle for a second and realize that everyone and everything on this planet is interconnected, like a finely tuned and very complex mechanism, ultimately, going green becomes about every single one of us, about living in the present moment in a considerate, creative, and empowering way so that tomorrow’s present moment will be uncompromised and equally fulfilling for our future generations.

Simply put, if we don’t take environmental responsibility now, our children, whether we have them already or we’re planning to have them later on, won’t be able to enjoy the simple things we now take for granted, such as clean air, fresh water, a beautiful flower, a swim in the ocean, a walk in the park, hiking or skiing.

Everything we do, from our birth and until our very last breath, can be regarded as an act of consumption: we “consume” heartbeats, emotions, words, elements, resources and experiences. This is what makes us alive! But, through our conventional self-centered perspective on life, we regard this act of consumption as a birthright without consequences that go beyond us.

The truth is, nothing gets truly consumed, only transformed, therefore, nothing really begins and ends with us, humans. We are a part of this transformation chain and we have the power to decide whether we’re its weakest or its strongest link.

From the food we put on the table to the clothes we wear, the products we use, and the energy we consume, we can choose to make a positive impact every single day instead of turning a blind eye and shifting responsibility to public institutions and private companies because, at the end of the day, it’s every single one of us who creates the demand for the very products and services that are affecting our ecosystems.

How to Go Green & How to Make Green Living Become a Rewarding Lifelong Commitment

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably considered adopting an eco-friendly lifestyle more than once but you either didn’t know how or where to start, or the change itself seemed so complex that you were overwhelmed by its implications.

And that’s partly because, even though there’s plenty of information on the topic, most of it covers only the extremes – the shallow, green-washing approach that’s pretty much for marketing purposes or the hard-core, off-the-grid approach, which takes a lot of time and effort, and is definitely not for everyone.

No wonder a lot of people still think that green living is too expensive, inconvenient or too time consuming. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

Since sustainability is about balance, going green is about finding the balance between personal comfort and environmental responsibility, and designing a lifestyle that fulfills both aspects.

Luckily, it is not as difficult to achieve this as one might expect. Here’s how:

Go Green Step 1:

The best way to start is to readjust our mindset and behavior by adopting the 3R’s principle: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Let’s take a look at these shocking statistics:

  • each year, globally, 1.3bn tonnes of food (about a third of all that is produced) is wasted, including about 45% of all fruit and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, 20% of dairy products and 20% of meat (source). More food waste facts here;
  • in 2014, the amount of global e-waste — discarded electrical and electronic equipment — reached 41.8 million tonnes, worth US$52 billion of potentially reusable resources. Less than one sixth of it was properly recycled or reused (source).  Due to the current technical innovations, the e-waste volume is expected to grow to 65 million tonnes by 2017;
  • an estimated 17 to 20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment and an approximately 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used throughout the world to turn raw materials into textiles, many of which will be released into freshwater sources (source);
  • between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2010 from people living within 50 kilometers of the coastline, with a total of 275 million metric tons of plastic waste generated in those 192 coastal countries (source).

The conclusion? Avoiding overconsumption, repurposing what we already have, and recycling what we don’t use anymore can go a long way for ourselves, for our pockets, and for our planet.

Go Green Step 2

Our choices do much more than define who we are, they also shape the economy and the environment through the law of cause and effect: consumer demand leads to manufacturing, manufacturing leads to resource consumption, resource consumption leads to depletion, depletion leads to degradation and so on. Therefore, by making responsible choices we’ll encourage better manufacturing practices and a more efficient use of natural resources, creating a sustainable cycle which will benefit the environment and our future generations.

Food

When it comes to what we put on our tables, the basic eco-friendly approach is:

  • buying local – to support local businesses and to reduce the greenhouse emissions generated by food transportation from its production site to the point of sale;
  • buying seasonal food – for freshness, reduced packaging, and low processing;
  • buying organic food – to develop a healthy diet and to promote responsible agricultural practices;
  • buying in bulk the products consumed on a daily basis and which have a long shelf life, such as rice, beans, pasta, condiments, snacks etc.
  • reducing meat intake since livestock accounts for 15 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions, about the same as the entire global transport sector (source).

Some of you may argue that organic food is more expensive but you have to keep in mind that, in the long run, healthier food will lower your chances of needing high-cost medical care and that eating less meat is also a life and a money saver.

You can read more about how eating right can improve the quality of your life and the environment here, while this article shares some very useful tips and tricks on buying in bulk.

Personal Care Items

Our skin, the body’s largest organ, is put through a lot on a daily basis. Not only it’s exposed to factors such as sunlight, wind, temperature and humidity variations, dust and pollution, but it also has to deal with tens of personal care items from soap, shower gel and shampoo to creams, deodorants, perfumes and make-up. Since 50 to 60% of these products are absorbed by the skin and into our bodies, while most of them are not regulated to a level that would ensure our safety beyond any doubt, going green with our personal care items would not only benefit the environment but also our health. A greener approach to personal care starts with:

  • simplifying our beauty routine – unless there’s a special skin condition involved, a simple routine that involves cleaning, toning, moisturizing (and SPF during the day) is more than enough. A healthy, glowing skin has more to do with what we eat (and what we drink) than with the products we put on it;
  • avoiding harmful substances – by referring to Gillian Deacon’s list with the top 20 ingredients to avoid, some of which cause serious side effects such as irritation, allergies, cell damage and hormonal imbalance;
  • steering clear of greenwashing – by making sure the label has the Eco-Cert and the USDA Organic seals of approval;
  • choosing cruelty free products  – by looking for the HCS (Humane Cosmetics Standard) seal, which is the only international standard for beauty and skincare items that are not tested on animals;
  • trying DIY beauty and natural oils – there are plenty of effective homemade beauty treatments and natural oils that could be used as make-up removers and moisturizers.

Cleaning Products and Detergents

Part of our evolution as a civilization is the war we declared on grime and germs, and the average household is armed with up to 25 gallons of toxic substances, most of which have serious health and environmental effects. We were taught to believe that, in order to be effective, a cleaning product must have a strong chemical composition designed to annihilate everything in its path and we’ve become skeptical of the natural alternatives which are safer, more cost effective and pose no threat to the environment. In fact, a greener approach to cleaning our homes is just as effective, and has none of the toxic side-effects. Key tips include:

  • choosing eco-friendly products and detergents – there’s an increasing number of non-toxic, biodegradable options available on the market and plenty of easy to make DIY recipes;
  • aerating naturally – by opening windows as often as possible (especially when cleaning) and replacing store-bought air fresheners with essential oils or spices such as cinnamon, cloves, or vanilla;
  • avoiding conventional dry cleaning – by looking for cleaners who use eco-friendly methods such as carbon dioxide cleaning;
  • disposing of cleaning products safely – local councils usually provide toxic-waste disposal facilities.

Clothes

The fashion world is no stranger to waste and pollution. From abused workers, unsustainable raw materials and toxic dyes to landfills full of impulse buys and barely-worn clothes, fast fashion and short-lived trends are certainly not making an eco-friendly statement. But we can definitely change that by:

  • choosing wiser, buying less and building an evergreen wardrobe with good-quality classic pieces that will never go out of fashion;
  • buying eco-friendly clothes – to support companies which promote sustainable business practices, have ethical working conditions, and use sustainably sourced materials;
  • repairing instead of replacing – a button that has come undone, a small tear or a broken zipper can easily be fixed without leaving a visible trace;
  • repurposing instead of disposing – an item that has gone out of fashion or we’ve grown bored of can be repurposed by a skilled tailor or taken to a charity shop;
  • going vintage – extending the life of clothes that still have something to offer.

Difficult to find a green label that suits your taste? This article lists 35 ethical alternatives to fast fashion – better than anything you’ll find on the high-street.

Furniture and Home Accessories

Although the sustainability movement continues to attract a large number of followers, consumers and manufacturers alike, making green choices when it comes to our furniture can prove a little bit challenging, especially from a cost perspective. Luckily, there are many cost-effective ways of furnishing a home with eco-friendly items, especially if we’re willing to invest some time in researching manufacturers and markets specialized in green design or reclaimed materials. A green interior design starts with:

  • buying eco-friendly furniture & accessories made from certified sustainable wood and materials;
  • buying reclaimed furniture & accessories – wood, metal, and plastic are often upcycled and given a new life by skilled designers and craftsmen;
  • choosing durability in terms of materials and style;
  • going for non-toxic items – by avoiding furniture that’s treated with flame retardants, formaldehyde or lead paint;
  • buying local – to support the local economy and to reduce the environmental toll of shipping;
  • reviving old furniture – by giving it a DIY makeover.

Go Green Step 3

Going green is not only about what we eat or what we buy; oftentimes, it’s our habits that have the biggest impact on the environment, be it good or bad. So, perhaps the biggest change of all would be to become aware of our daily habits, at home and at the office, and slowly replace them with greener ones.

Shopping

Shopping is a sensitive subject for most of us: we’re all guilty of impulse buys, or buying more than we actually needed on more than one occasion, so changing the way we shop, together with what we shop for, is perhaps the most efficient way of turning a mass consumption society into a sustainable one. In this sense, we should buy less in quantity but better in terms of quality, ditching disposables in favor of items with a long-term durability. Another responsible choice would be locally produced goods – although the cheap cost of overseas production is certainly reflected in the price, choosing local stimulates the national economy and has fewer negative environmental implications.

Packaging & Storage

Many of the things we buy have excessive packaging or packaging impossible to recycle (plastic coated cardboard, non-recyclable plastic), which ends up in landfills or being burned – the world’s largest source of dioxins, one of the most toxic chemicals known to science. The solution? Buying loose produce or in bulk, when it comes to food staples, and choosing products with recyclable packaging.

Food storage is another area which can be improved: although convenient, plastic wrap, aluminum foil and sandwich bags are wasteful and difficult to recycle. Replacing them with jars and reusable food containers will reduce the amount of household waste created and contribute to a cleaner environment.

Water Efficiency

The unprecedented Californian drought has made many of us reconsider our attitude towards a resource we often take for granted: water. Its conservation has many benefits, from lowering the costs of utility bills to reducing pollution and extending the life of a household’s septic system, and it starts with:

  • checking and fixing pipe and toilet leaks; 
  • installing features such as water-saving shower heads and low-flow faucet aerators;
  • taking shorter showers;
  • turning off the water while toothbrushing;
  • turning off the water while washing the dishes by hand or while washing vegetables which could then be rinsed in a stoppered sink or a pan of clean water.
  • using the dishwasher and the washing machine for full loads only.

Energy Efficiency

Adopting eco-friendly habits when it comes to energy consumption is another household money-saver with significant environmental benefits. The basics are:

  • switching off and unplugging appliances when not in use;
  • switching off lights when leaving a room and replacing conventional light bulbs with energy efficient/ LED/CFL ones;
  • optimizing appliance use – by using eco-friendly washing cycles when practical, setting refrigerator temperature at 38 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit and freezer temperature between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit;
  • line drying clothes as often as possible;
  • maximizing sun exposure in the winter – by lifting curtains and blinds;
  • sealing air leaks and improving home insulation.

Fuel Efficiency

In 2013, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation accounted for about 27% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it the second largest contributor of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions after the Electricity sector. The largest sources of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions include passenger cars and light-duty trucks, including sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and minivans. These sources account for over half of the emissions from the sector.

Does this ring a bell? Our overreliance on our personal cars isn’t hurting just the environment – it’s actually affecting our health, too, making us less active and prone to heart and circulatory system diseases.

Cycling, carpooling and public transportation are great alternatives, so why not give them a try? I know that, for many of us, riding a bicycle to work or to the grocery store isn’t a viable alternative and that public transportation isn’t always reliable option but …

Since today’s choices become tomorrow’s effects, it’s also fair to say that tomorrow’s legacy is today’s responsibility, our responsibility.

How to make going green a lifelong commitment?